Thursday 31 May 2012

Germany - Renewable Energy

Last week, while I was still in Germany, I came across this article, quoting a Reuters article about solar power generation in the country

"German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour — equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity — through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank said. The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. ... The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world's leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed."
Given all the solar farms we passed, and the number of houses with solar panels on the roofs, this didn't surprise me.  There were FIELDS of solar panels.  Row after row of them.

It's a little hard to see in the photo above, but the roof of the house on the left (looks gray while the other roofs look reddish) is covered in solar panels.  

Solar isn't the only clean energy Germany is producing.  Everywhere we went we could see wind turbines.  It would be nice to see more of the world turn to renewable energy sources.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Books Received, May 2012

A thankfully small number of books this month (I'm SO behind on my reading, and not reading at all on my vacation didn't help - though it did help with my fantasy fatigue, which is good).  The synopsis quotes are from the Indigo website.

First up is Fantasy Short Stories, Issue 1, edited by Mark Lord.  I've already reviewed it here.  I found the collection quite good, aside from the middle story, which was surprisingly bad.  The collection consists of 5 fantasy stories, and is intended as the first of many issues bringing 'traditional' fantasy short stories back into popular awareness.

Suited, by Jo Anderton.  I really enjoyed the first book in this series and am very interested in seeing where the author takes things.  Both mystery and romance were hinted...  The plot synopsis: "Tanyana has chosen to help the Keeper, to stand against the Puppet Men, but has she bitten off more than she can chew?"

I requested God's War by Kameron Hurley from NetGalley after reading several positive reviews for it.

Some days, Nyx was a Bel Dame - an honored, respected, and deadly government-funded assassin - other days, she was a butcher and a hunter; a woman with nothing to lose. Now the butcher has a bounty to bring in. Nyx and her rag-tag group of mercenaries is about to take up a contract that will shake the foundations of two warring governments...
Last but not least is Suzanne Johnson's Royal Street.  I can't remember what site I read it on, but someone gave this a good review, that's got me itching to read urban fantasy again.

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco's job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ''s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.
Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans' fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.
While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.
To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards' Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ's new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Back From Vacation

Well, after two weeks in Europe I'm back in Canada.  And it feels good to be home.  We had a rather insane (planned by me) itinerary, where we did rather more cities than we should have in a short amount of time.  The downside of that is that I'm exhausted and didn't get any reading done on this trip.  The upside is that I took a ton of great photos and got to see a lot of amazing places (some for the second time).

Here are some of the photos I took (click on the photo to go to my Picasa album).  Don't worry, this is a 'best of' collection, not all 3000+ photos from my trip.

Germany/Switzerland 2012

One thing I am interested in, as a bookseller, is the selection and price of books in other countries.  Specifically science fiction and fantasy books.  So I checked out a few bookstores (mostly in train stations and the airport).

Here are some pics.  First, Bern.  Decent selection of books.  But wow!  Look at that price.  That's Brent Weeks' Way of Shadows in trade paperback on sale for chf 27.50 (that's $29.30 Canadian).  Take that, people who complain about Canadian book prices.

Germany isn't much better for price.  Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, also available in trade paperback, is 20.60 ($26.30 Canadian).  Remember that the price involves the translation.  I didn't think to check the price of an untranslated work.  The selection here included some manga at the end.  It looks like a lot of books, but they're all faced and there are multiple facings for some books, so there aren't really as many books as this photo suggests.

I started reading J. M. Frey's Triptych in the airport in Toronto, but my reading became so disjointed, and the prose is so good, that I've decided to start the book again and read it properly, now that I'm home.  I saw a bunch of movies on the flights, so you can look forward to some more current movie reviews as well.

Friday 25 May 2012

New Author Spotlight: Chris Holm

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with 3 books or less in the different SF/F subgenres. Today's spotlight shines on Chris F. Holm, who has written numerous short stories, but whose debut novel, Dead Harvest was published by Angry Robot Books earlier this year. Here's the cover copy...

Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls.
Sam's job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure their souls are dispatched to the appropriate destination.
But when he's dispatched to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that's doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before.

If you like books about collecting souls, check out these:

  • Black Wings by Christina Henry (Ace)
  • On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony (Del Rey)
  • Soul Trapper by F. J. Lennon (Atria Books)

Thursday 24 May 2012

Movie Review: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Director: John De Bello, 1978

Pros: spoofs a lot of movies, takes the attacks seriously while taking itself as a joke

Cons: very cheesy, less humor than expected, boring at times

Several groups of misfits from the scientific, military and special ops communities, are brought in to deal with the menace of killer tomatoes.

In order to keep the menace under wraps, only the most incompetent people are sent to deal with the problem, with the exception of Mason Dixon (David Miller), who's actually quite smart.  This allows for a lot of quirky humor.  Add in 70s clothing and cheesy effects and there is stuff to laugh at, just not always what the film was going for.

The movie does well to take the killer tomato premise seriously.  It creates  a 'straight man' to play the spoof jokes off of.  And the movie does spoof a lot of other films.  My favourites were the nods to Jaws and Superman.

The only 'special effect' was the giant paper mache tomatoes.  Any other time something requiring special effects happened the camera focused on the people reacting to the incredible thing (tomatoes eating people, Superman flying, etc.).

On the whole, for a modern viewer, the movie is quite boring (mostly meetings with various people and little actual dealing with the problem or seeing people get eaten).  Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor), a reporter sent to get the story, does nothing and could have been cut from the film.  Her only purpose seemed to be as a Lois Lane reference.  And while there were a few good jokes, there weren't enough to keep me interested for a feature length film.

I'd give it a pass.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Short Film: Turbo

This is an incredible short film directed by Jarrett Lee Conaway.  The acting's great, the special effects are good and the story's well told.  I'm using the description from Vimeo.

TURBO is a high adrenaline short film in the tradition of The Karate Kid and Tron. It tells the story of Hugo Park (Justin Chon, Twilight) a troubled youth whose only outlet for angst is a 4D fighting videogame called “Super Turbo Arena”. When Pharaoh King (Jocko Sims, Crash the Series), the Michael Jordan of cyber-sports, announces a tournament to determine who will join his pro-team, Hugo sets his eyes on the prize. But, Hugo isn't the only gamer who wants fame and glory. If Hugo wants to win he's going to have to beat Shamus (David Lehre, Epic Movie), the all time Turbo champ at the local Pandemonium arcade, and Ruse Kapri, a feisty prep girl that knows how to win. Realizing he can't win on his skill alone, Hugo turns to his brother Tobias a former kick-boxer whose last match left him wheel-chair ridden. Together the two will mend old wounds and see if a washed up street fighter can teach a troubled teen how to become a virtual gladiator!

Check out the film's website for more info.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Book Review: City of Light and Shadow by Ian Whates

Pros: all the diverse storylines are dealt with, get to see more of the city

Cons: Kat is too angry, Tom is too powerful, ending is too tidy

Tom has met with the goddess Thaiss and returns to Thaiburley, the City of a Hundred Rows to renew the core.  Meanwhile, those who were killed by the bone flu transform into Rust Warriors and attack the upper levels, taking the core block hostage.

Kat and Tylus have their own quest, to find and kill both the Soul Thief and Insint, hiding in the Stain, the most dangerous area of the city below.

Kat was my favourite character in the first two books due to her intelligence and skill.  While she was always standoffish and 'pricklish', she spends the first half of this book angry and sullen.  I had a harder time sympathizing with her bi*chy attitude.

Tom has become so powerful that there was little tension in the book.  Every time he faced an enemy, he stepped up his attack ability and wiped it out.  Even big battle characters (whether faced by him or other major characters) were dispatched with little effort and less of the fantastic fighting that was seen in the previous books.  And while some of the peripheral characters became expendable, I had little fear for the protagonists.

Similarly, the ending was a little too perfect.  Nearly every loose end was tied up, even those of the smaller characters who had little impact on the book itself.  Part of this novel follows Dewar and his vendetta against those who exiled him, a side plot that ties in surprisingly well with what's happening in the city.  It was all too pat.

On the whole, I found the book boring and anti-climactic.

*** Spoiler section ***

This section deals specifically with the ending, so if you don't want the book seriously spoiled, don't read this.

The main conflict was with the Rust Warriors who decimated parts of the upper city.  Yet, there's no true resolution to this conflict.  Tom renews the core and... that's it.  It's never stated how the Rust Warriors are actually defeated - do they stop moving and have to be cleared away?  Do they turn to dust and vanish?  Similarly we're told in passing that the bone flu that created the Rust Warriors is cured.  It's not revealed how.  Does it simply vanish?  Do the victims have to be healed?  What about the limbs/parts that were crystallized?  Do they heal entirely?

I was confused by the Prime Master's hiding his survival.  Did he intend to spend the rest of his life hiding in the healer's home?

Kat's last scene was also a disappointment.  Yes, we finally got a decent fight scene, but to leave the book with her bleeding profusely and perhaps dying was annoying after all the effort the author put into giving others a happy ending.

The final reveal of Thaiss's brother's name did nothing for me.  If anything, I found it kind of irritating that so much effort was made to tie up all the smaller plot lines and then this major threat was simply dropped at the end of the book.  Tom didn't seem to upset that the city's enemy was now potentially in command of it.  Even Thomas's appointment didn't make sense to me.  Surely at least one other more experienced councilor survived.  Why would they appoint the youngest member, the one who only had a few month's experience as a councilor to be their new Prime Master?  And why is it more likely for Thiass's brother, Thomas, to have taken over someone with the same name? Are his powers really that limited?  

What a disappointing end to an otherwise fun series.

Friday 18 May 2012

New Author Spotlight: Darin Bradley

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with 3 books or less in the different SF/F subgenres.

 Today's spotlight shines on Darin Bradley!  His debut novel is Noise published by Random House.
 Here's the cover copy...

This haunting debut from a brilliant new voice is sure to be as captivating as it is controversial, a shocking look at the imminent collapse of American civilization-and what will succeed it.   In the aftermath of the switch from analog to digital TV, an anarchic movement known as Salvage hijacks the unused airwaves. Mixed in with the static's random noise are dire warnings of the imminent economic, political, and social collapse of civilization-and cold-blooded lessons on how to survive the fall and prosper in the harsh new order that will inevitably arise from the ashes of the old.
Hiram and Levi are two young men, former Scouts and veterans of countless Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. Now, on the blood-drenched battlefields of university campuses, shopping malls, and gated communities, they will find themselves taking on new identities and new moralities as they lead a ragtag band of hackers and misfits to an all-but-mythical place called Amaranth, where a fragile future waits to be born.
Check out these other books if you're a fan of soft apocalypses:

  • Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh (Night Shade Books)
  • The Unit by Terry DeHart (Orbit)
  • Death of Grass by John Christopher (Penguin)

Thursday 17 May 2012

Movie Review: 12:01

Director: Jack Sholder, 1993

Pros: fun story, quirky romance, touches of humour, days repeat enough to get the point but not enough to be annoying 

Cons: no actual science

Barry Thomas (Jonathan Silverman) is having a REALLY bad day.   He's late for work - again, he accidentally forgot to add Dr. Thadius Moxley's assistants to the payroll, he gets fired and the woman he likes (and finally got up the nerve to talk to) gets shot right in front of him.

When he wakes up the next day things are suspiciously similar, from the news story of Dr. Moxley's experiment to the phone call from his mom.  And no one seems to know about Lisa Fredericks (Helen Slater)'s death.

Barry must figure out why time is looping, why he can tell it's happening when no one else is aware of it, and how to stop it.  All while also trying to save the woman he's come to love from dying, and making her realize they're perfect for each other.  Every day.

Like Groundhog Day, this movie relies on repetition of events for its story telling.  Unlike Groundhog Day, the days only repeat a limited number of times, and the emphasis is on figuring out what's happening and trying to stop it.  Each day is unique despite the repeated events, and the romance between Barry and Lisa is completely different each day.

There's a fair amount of humour involved with Barry trying to explain to Lisa who he is and why she should believe that the experiment she's an assistant on has gone bad.  Barry's cubicle neighbour is also a riot, playing pranks on him that go the wrong way in increasing degrees as Barry encounters the same tricks each day.

The science behind the experiment is never mentioned in detail, so if you're looking for hard SF look elsewhere.

As a made for TV movie, it's surprisingly clever, with some good acting and fun dialogue.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Cockpit: The Rules of Engagement

This is an amazing short SF film by Jesse Griffith.  I'd love to see a feature length film based on this idea.

The Award winning sci-fi short finally comes to vimeo. I made this movie for three thousand dollars working on it after hours at my day job at "Jimmy Kimmel Live", with the dream that it would get discovered and lead to the production of my feature screenplay, "Cockpit."
The short has been a finalist in over 30 film festivals, and has won 14 awards. It has even played at Comic-con. The feature screenplay has won 4 awards. We may be on the right track.
“COCKPIT” is the story of a squadron of space fighter pilots, stranded in their cockpits deep in enemy space, struggling with reality and delusion as they are hunted by mind controlling aliens.
“COCKPIT: THE RULE OF ENGAGEMENT” is a standalone chapter from the same universe which follows the Carrier Captain (Ronny Cox) who must decide if it is worth risking the security of Earth to save a suffocating pilot who may or may not have been corrupted by the mind controlling aliens.
Feel free to visit the cockpitthemovie website to learn more.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Magazine Review: Fantasy Short Stories Issue 1

Edited by Mark Lord

I should start this review with a disclaimer that until recently I disliked short fiction, so I haven't read many collections or magazines.  I'm slowly changing that, having read some SF stories, but it makes it harder to know if the stories in this magazine are comparable to what else is on the market for fantasy or if they're unique.  I will say that the first few stories certainly felt different and fresh in comparison to the novels I've been reading lately.

For the most part, I found this an excellent collection.  Two of the stories really stood out for me, "The Dying Elf" and "The Pivot".  One story however, "Demon Stone", surprised me by its inclusion as it didn't seem up to the skill level of the other stories.  There were a few typos, but those are easily overlooked.

About the magazine:

Fantasy Short Stories is a new publication established with the aim of publishing the best short stories in Heroic, Epic, and High Fantasy, and with plenty of Swords and Sorcery thrown in. Although many of our authors may be unknown to you, we aim to set high standards for publication, and to discover some great new talent in the world of fantasy fiction.

Learn more about it on it's website.

It's available for US$ 4.99 at Smashwords and Amazon US
And £3.08 at Amazon UK 

The Stories:

"The Dying Elf" by Mike Pielaet-Strayer

The ironically named Oberon fights for the first King of Men against the creatures of magic who destroyed his home.  At this, the aftermath of the final battle, Oberon wonders if what he's done was worth it.

This story was absolutely brilliant.  The writing was sharp, evocative and touching.  The best of the issue, I highly recommend it.

"The Empty Dark"  by C. L. Holland

A traveller from another world wakes to find his companion missing and a tale of locals vanishing in the night.  Using magic, he scrys his partner's location and sets off to rescue him.

Not quite as good as the first story, this one was still entertaining and showed magic with definite limits.  

"Demon Stone" by Jake Scholl

King Dagr Brightsword is surprised in his halls one night by a mysterious sorcerer.  In order to save his wife, the king must return with a magical stone.

Given how good the previous stories were, I was surprised and dismayed by how bad this one was.  The story made little sense.  Several important things were left unexplained (like where the king's guards were, why the king trusted this sorcerer enough to leave him in his keep, etc.).  The king had a magical sword and yet he only used it as a torch.  He never tried to fight the sorcerer.

Content issues aside, the story was also riddled with cliched phrases and grammatical errors.  Take this sentence as an example.  "Erion screamed a scream no other human should ever go through, ..."  I know what the author was trying to say, but the thing about writing is that people expect you to use words correctly.  And too often in this story the author didn't.  He also repeated himself in unnecessary ways.  "His face was filled with shock, his face turned pale as fresh snow."  Putting aside the fact that the author joined two sentences with a comma, they both say the same thing, that the man's shock showed on his face.  

Very disappointing.

"The Pivot" by Noeleen Kavanagh

The 'Peasant King' thinks of the turning point in his life that brought him from the farm where he grew up to a position of prominence in the king's household.

The story was well written, at par with "The Dying Elf", though without quite the same emotional punch that story had.  The fantastical element was minor, but interesting.

"Sparrows Falling" by Gretchen Tessmer 

An enchantress must come to terms with her benefactor, and teacher's, unpalatable decision.

This story was well written, lyrical almost.  It had a lot of details with regards to dress, hair, etc. but not as many details regarding the decision the benefactor made.  As such, I didn't like it as well as some of the other stories in the issue, but did enjoy the author's style.

Monday 14 May 2012

Science Fiction Play: Islands

Got an email about a science fiction play coming to Toronto, Ontario Canada, performed by Draft89, a theatre collective.  It will be performed from May 17th to June 2nd at the Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen Street West, Toronto (Queen & Dovercourt).  Tickets are $30, available from their website.

From their website:

It is the year 2512, and the human species has survived a nuclear armageddon – sort of. The survivors on a small Pacific island have rebuilt civilization the best they could. An oligarchy of ruling intellectuals controls the hearts and minds of the population in order to guide it into the future. Everything seems peaceful in this island paradise. But are the citizens as happy as they seem to be? Or are there deeper forces at work....
Islands looks at the clash between utopia and human nature. Are people entitled to their bad ideas? Are people free to relinquish their freedom? When the mob is at the gate, does it matter if they're right or wrong? When your opponent plays dirty, when do you climb down into the dirt with them? All this, plus holograms, radioactive sunflowers, anti-aging medicine and fancy hats will be on display in two-hour installments...

Sunday 13 May 2012

Book Review: Erebos by Ursula Poznanski

Pros: intense writing, three dimensional teen protagonists, fascinating video game, minor romance that develops naturally  

Cons: told friendships exist where there's no evidence of them in the book, some readers may dislike the switch between the author's use of past tense in the real world and present tense in the game world

For Parents: minor violence (mostly in game), minor swearing (multiple uses of the word sh*t), no sex 

There are three rules for playing Erebos.  1. You only get one chance.  2. You must play alone.  3. The content of the game is secret.  When Nick Dunmore finally gets his hands on one of the mysterious square packages circulating around his high school he's determined to play - and win - the game.  But Erebos is unlike any game he's played before.  It knows when he lies about his name.  It asks him to do tasks outside the game.  Bizarre tasks like photographing a man in a parking garage.  When the tasks become dangerous, he wonders if the game, as amazing as it is, is worth the real world risks he's taking.  

Judith Pattinson deserves a lot of credit for her translation of this book.  It's readable, intense and clever.  The author has peppered the book with references to Greek mythology and created a plot that ties together neatly at the end.

The characters are all three dimensional.  Nick is a jock at his school, friendly with most people but rude to the 'freaks' in his class.  He starts the novel wanting to know why people around him are changing, becoming secretive, creating friendships with those they never liked before.  When he finally starts playing, he himself changes dramatically, dissing his best friend, skipping basketball practice and playing at all hours.

There was a bit of disconnect here where the reader is told that Nick is friends with Colin and others, but it's never shown in the book.  Colin is already a player and distanced from Nick when the book begins.  But all of the students react in different ways to the presence of the game - some want in, others don't care, and when someone gets kicked out they often cause a scene, trying to find someone willing to break the rules and give them a second chance.  Even the teachers react differently to the mass absences, though only two of them are mentioned with any regularity, the English teacher who's convinced the game is dangerous and the basketball coach.

Some readers may dislike the shift between past tense usage to depict actions in the real world vs present tense usage to describe the game world.  This reviewer only noticed the change a few times and it never pushed her out of the book as has happened with other novels that tried similar tricks.  The present tense creates a sense of immediacy with the game play.  It's easy to see why the kids get hooked so quickly and why it's hard for them to tear themselves away from it.  It's also easy to see why they're so willing to perform the tasks asked of them by the game - who wouldn't want to play a game that caters to your interests and rewards you in the real world?

The game is set in a medieval world, with orcs, trolls and other familiar and unfamiliar monsters.  Players create their characters and then fight monsters as training to help Erebos defeat Ortolan.  Levelling up is done in two ways - winning levels from other players in Tournaments and performing a task in the real world.  The game world is detailed and highly interactive, with players trying to find wish crystals and join the inner circle (that gets specialized training in order to complete their mission).

This section of the book became so intense this reviewer nearly got reader fatigue, but it stopped and moved to a new focus at just the right time.  The novel is well paced that way, switching focus a few times to keep the action moving towards the game, and novel's, climax.

Nick does find romance towards the end of the book.  It's fairly low key and develops naturally as the characters react to what's happening.

The ending adds depth to all the events that have been mentioned throughout the book.  The characters face real consequences for their decisions along the way and the origins of the game are explained.  If you like video games and aren't afraid of reading 'YA', definitely pick this book up.

Friday 11 May 2012

Author Interview: Stephen Wallenfels

Novel: POD

> What is POD about?

POD is about a catastrophic invasion by massive alien spheres, or PODs, which render technology useless and "disappear" anyone venturing outside.  The story is told by Josh, a fifteen-year-old boy stuck in his house with his OCD father in a small town in Washington state; and Megs, a twelve-year-old girl trapped in a car park next to a hotel taken over by ruthless security men in Los Angeles, California.

> What drew you to writing about an alien invasion?

My two favorite genres growing up were science fiction and adventure/survival stories, with my top authors being Ray Bradbury and Jack London.  So writing about an alien invasion was totally in my sweet spot.  But I didn't want to write the typical "aliens destroy the world then humans fight back" novel, so the POD invasion is more like a siege, which in some ways is even more frightening.  Plus the idea came to me in a dream which made it hard to resist.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I've always loved to read, so writing was a natural fit.  The thrill of using my over-active imagination to create something out of nothing, to move people emotionally, and hopefully change their life in some small way, is profoundly satisfying.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

That's a scary thought.  Maybe, just maybe, I would change places with Josh when the PODs attack-just to see it happen, but only for a few seconds.  I'd much rather wait for the movie!  I think a better question is:  would any of the characters like to change places with me?

>What were your literary or film influences for POD?

I like YA-crossover books with powerful and realistic voices, particularly Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. In film, I'd put Alien up there, particularly when the characters have no idea what they are up against.  That is when the movie is most tense, and that is what I wanted to capture in POD.

> POD is your first published novel, how long did it take to write it?

POD started as a short story from Josh's point of view, titled Pearls of Death.  But friends wanted it to be longer, so I added a second protagonist (Megs) in a second location.  The entire process from first word to on the shelf took about four years.  POD was accepted on the first submission, so that was lucky.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There were a couple of emotional scenes with Josh, but I can't go further than that without spoiling the ending.  The Megs chapters were more fun to write.  Full of courage and plucky independence.

> When and where do you write?

In my office in my home.  Since I have a full-time "regular" job as a marketing director, I write every day at the un-healthy hour of 4am-6:30am.  I drink lots and lots of tea.

> What's the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing is the thrill of seeing your characters come to life, and to hear your friends talk about them, and the decisions they make under stress, as if they are real people.  The worst part prior to publishing are the rejections.  The "new" worst part are the reviews.  Even if you have 99 good ones, it is the one bad one that sticks in your throat like a chicken bone.  I haven't been around the block enough to develop the tough skin that more experienced writers have-but I will.  It is a necessary part of the trade.

> What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

I didn't know how much time the writer has to put into promoting the book.  It's the big thing I hear at the conferences these days-Facebook, Twitter, maintain a blog, a website.  But in the end we authors are grateful for readers and will gladly do what needs to be done to have our books read.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Read everything and constantly.  Write every day.  Go to conferences and workshops and understand the craft behind the talent. Submit your stuff.  Keep trying.

> Any tips against writers block?

Fight through it.  Or skip that chapter and move on to a new chapter featuring characters that are willing to play with you.  And if that doesn't work re-examine your plot and see if something isn't making sense-and fix it.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

It isn't hard.  My characters start nagging me if I leave them alone.  Getting up at 4 am is tough though.  My characters would prefer a more decent hour.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

I've been pretty lucky with short stories-most of them were accepted first or second try.  The same with POD.  But I have tried and tried to get a picture book published and only have a mountain of rejections to show for it.  I have one right now that is at ten rejections, but my agent assures me it will find a home!

> What are you reading now?

Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin.  Impressive world-building, epic plot, believable characters with tragic flaws.  Love it.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Movie Review: Faust

Director: F. W. Murnau, 1926
IMDb listing, b&w silent film 

Pros: good use of light and shadow, atmospheric, decent acting

Cons: second half is much less interesting than the first half, ending felt like a cop out

The devil makes a bet with God that he can corrupt the God fearing Faust.  If he wins, he gets the Earth.

This film is VERY atmospheric.  The director made amazing use of light and shadow to add an air of menace.  There's also a lot of fog, smoke and dust, creating a dark feel to the film.

This is the first silent film I've seen where I haven't known the story (beyond the basics) going in.  As such, I found the majority of the plot fascinating.  I'd always pictured Faust as a younger man, who wants to have everything and so willingly makes a deal with the devil (much like the husband in Rosemary's Baby).  So seeing an old Faust, frustrated with God for not ending the plague that's decimating his city, was a bit of a shock.  Especially when he calls on Mephisto at the crossroads, holding up a book of magic, looking exactly like Moses holding the Ten Commandments.

Mephisto also didn't fit my expectations, though part way through the film he changes looks - and does a great Dracula impression (tight cloak, widow's peak, sharply slanted eyebrows).  The idea that people can be led to hell by small decisions - by good intentions - is played up (invented?) here as Faust signs the contract with the concerns of others in mind.  His good intentions quickly fail.

A few of the effects, like the flying cloak, didn't hold up, but there's little 'magic' beyond vanishing people (which does hold up) so that's not a problem.  I did find that the movie dragged during the seduction of Gretchen.  It picked up again afterwards, being very tense while I wondered what her - and Fuast's - fate would be. 

The principle actors all do a great job, and Gretchen (Camilla Horn) is very beautiful, with her pale complexion and painted lips.  Mephisto (Emil Jannings) - in both his guises - is suitably creepy and evil, even while pretending to serve Faust faithfully.  Faust (Gosta Ekman) - both old and young - does a great job of showing sorrow and heartache.

I found the ending a bit anti-climactic.  I'd expected Fasut to think his way out of his contract which isn't what happens (I won't say more than that).

Despite it's faults, it's a really good film.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Short Film: Anthem

This is a brilliant, touching short film by Jarrett Lee Conaway.

In the distant future two explorers uncover a time capsule buried by the people of Earth on the eve of its destruction.

This film will leave you chilled, and thinking deeply about the legacy we, as a race, are leaving behind.  Wish blockbuster science fiction films were half as good as this.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Book Review: The World House by Guy Adams

Pros: fascinating and diverse characters, interesting setting, lots of twists, complex plot revealed at the end

Cons: fair amount of swearing, some uncomfortable scenes (but nothing graphic), minor plot holes

The World House is the story of various people who find themselves holding a mysterious box with Chinese letters on it during moments of personal danger.  Transported to an alternate reality, the World House, these people meet and band together to survive the horrors that the house, and other displaced humans, throw at them.

It's the variety of characters and the insane house that make this a great read.  From Miles, an antiques dealer, whose gambling debts mean he's close to having his legs broken as repayment, to Tom the piano player, who loves Thursdays because he gets to see the woman he fancies, to Sophie, an autistic girl, who sees the world differently and Alan, who doesn't remember his youth outside of disturbing dreams and wants to be a good man.  The setting is much like that of Alice in Wonderland, constantly changing and throwing new dangers at the characters.  The house has infinitely long hallways, an oceanic bathtub and monsters that come to life at nighttime, all of which keep the narrative exciting.

The ending pulls all the otherwise disjointed stories together in a way that's impossible to predict as the entity the house guards manipulates the current situation to its benefit.

There is some swearing and a few scenes were uncomfortable to read, though there was nothing particularly graphic.  One character is portrayed as a bad man via the cliched use of an attempted rape.  His casual cruelty was better demonstrated by his actions at the end of the book but the scene did show the feistiness and survival instincts of one of the female characters (meanwhile another woman is raped in the background so be advised).  The ending also implies that one of the characters must meet with certain people,  whom he never meets in the book and never hears about, so it's unclear how he's supposed to do this, though that is explained in the sequel.

In the end, this is quite different from other books out there.  Imaginative and fun, it will keep you on your toes.

Friday 4 May 2012

Author Interview: A. M. Dellamonica

Indigo Springs
Blue Magic

Short Stories: Lots, listed here.


> What is Indigo Springs about?

Indigo Springs is about three friends who discover a wellspring of magic in their home. By the time they figure out what it is, how it works, and that it's actually quite dangerous, they've set off a chain of events that leads to a Chernobyl-scale mystical disaster. They turn a huge portion of Oregon into an enchanted forest and barely escape with their lives and sanity. 

> You call Indigo Springs an ecofantasy.  What do you mean by that and is there a message you want readers to take away from your books?

Indigo Springs and Blue Magic are books in which a limited magical resource, vitagua, has been transformed into an environmental pollutant. People are struggling to understand, control, and possibly use up the resource, even as it radically alters the landscape of Oregon. It makes trees grow incredibly tall and turns animals into monsters, and it turns out to be much easier to spill it into the ecosystem than it does to return life to normal. I suspect the metaphor's pretty obvious.

And this is what ecofantasy is: it's set in the here and now of our world, and there's magic, but there's also an awareness of the environment and the affect we humans are having on it.

> How did it feel, winning the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic for Indigo Springs and where have you put your medallion?

I was floored when I won. The short list was packed with incredible authors that year, and I had already brought myself around to thinking about how fantastic it was to be nominated. When I got the e-mail my first thought was "Ah well, it was nice while it lasted." The sound I made when I read the e-mail and saw I'd won was a strangled surprise-noise. It sounded terrible! My partner thought something was grievously wrong!

The medallion lives in an antique cabinet that is full of our most special possessions: things like a string of my grandmother's pearls and our most beloved books (Michael Bishop's Brittle Innings is in there, as is the Jane Austen collection and a lot of Connie Willis and James Tiptree Jr.). I take it to conventions to show people and there are some photos of me cavorting with it when it first arrived.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I have felt compelled to write from the moment Ernie and Bert and all their buddies at the Children's Television Workshop started teaching me to read. I was attempting Dr. Seuss-inspired poetry before I entered grade school. Writing has always been a central part of my identity. I cannot tell you why.

The first time I ever attempted a novel was when I was in grade four and I read Gordon Korman's This Can't be Happening at MacDonald Hall. The fact that another kid was publishing novels made me assume that I could write and sell one, too. That turned out to be not quite true, but I was sending short work to markets like Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine by the time I was fifteen.

> You've written a number of short stories in different genres (mystery, science fiction, fantasy and alternate history).  Which is your favourite genre to write and why?

In terms of sheer wordage, I think I've written the most fantasy. It's a genre that works well for me because I feel very connected, somehow, to the idea of the impossible or the miraculous. When I think about achieving something magically, amazing, bizarre and sometimes beautiful ways to do it seem to pour out of my backbrain. It's also easier for me as someone whose training is in theater and dramatic arts. The rules of magic are more fluid and the author sets them. I can write science fiction, but I always have to check my research with people who've taken advanced physics, chemistry, and biology courses.

The first chapter books I read as a kid were a series of my mother's childhood books; they were biographies of famous U.S. women like Jane Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sacagawea and Louisa May Alcott. (I'm sure the writers in the mix made good role models--I read those books to tatters.) I've always been pulled to history and one of my favorite pieces of mine is an alternate history of Joan of Arc that combines that fondness for the miraculous with Joan, who has always intrigued me.

Finally, to be honest, I sneak mystery plots into almost everything I write.

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

I find very short stories quite hard: I can't seem to write my name without spilling 7,500 words. Aside from being longwinded, though, I love both forms and would be heartbroken if I had to give up one or the other.

I do find mystery and romance storylines easier to pace in the novel format--there's just more time to let things develop. Short stories are compressed and it takes more work to make them seem like they can span a big shift in a character's circumstances.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Oh, the lot of the folks in Indigo Springs and Blue Magic isn't enviable... I'm not sure there's many of them I'd want to be. But I'm writing a bunch of pieces now set on a world called Stormwrack--the first is called "Among the Silvering Herd", and there's a lot of adventure to be had there. I'd happily take a ride on the sailing vessel *Nightjar*, either as Garland Parrish or Gale Feliachild.

> When and where do you write?

I try to be someone who can write in almost any place, at any time... I've seen people who get so caught up in their rituals that they can only work in one space, and if conditions are perfect. That said, I get up every morning and go, at six a.m., to Cafe Calabria on Commercial Drive. There's no internet and few distractions, and I write fiction there seven days a week. And I'm not alone--quite a few writers end up there over the course of their very long day.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

It's the same thing: you do it alone. It's the best thing because you have total control over your work, your worlds, your characters and what happens to them. You can craft everything down to the hatpins. It's the worst thing because you can never *ever* delude yourself that you don't own what's on the page. If there's a typo, a bad sentence, a plotting misstep, what have you, you're the one that put it there.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

I have a ton, and a lot of it's up on my web site.  In fact, I teach writing courses online through the UCLA ExtensionWriters' Program, and sometimes I mentor new writers face-to-face through VancouverManuscript Intensive. I'm constantly telling new writers what I think they should do!

But in terms of some quick advice a person can use right now? Make the time to write regularly. Find critics or coaches you trust. Take their advice most of the time but know, too, that the important decisions are always absolutely yours.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

The upside of being compelled to write is that you have to discipline yourself to stop. If I go a week without writing, I get cranky. If I go two weeks, I become very unhappy indeed. But, when I am confronted with some task I don't particularly wish to get down to, what I will often do is set an electronic timer for an hour. I'll make a cup of tea, start the timer, and promise myself that as long as I give it a sixty-minute try, I'm off the hook for the day.

I love writing, and even when it's hard--when I'm struggling to pull off a particular story--I'm almost always having fun doing it. In this, I know, I am blessed. I'm grateful for that combination of personality traits that makes buckling down to writing easy for me. All I can do is enjoy it while it lasts, hope it doesn't change, and promise myself that if it does I'll seek the strength and the support I need to deal.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Art From Steel

Got an email a few days ago from a rather cool website, Art From Steel.  They're based in Thailand and make sculptures from scrap metal, including a lot of SF related things, like Aliens, Predators, Terminators and more.  Pieces range in price from $15 to $5000, depending on the size and complexity of the sculpture.  Here are a few examples:

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Book Review: Swipe by Evan Angler

Pros: well drawn characters, interesting world, some great twists, thought provoking

Cons: despite his job, Erin's father seems clueless regarding her intelligence and snooping

For Parents: no swearing, no sexual content, little violence (a few people get punched / hit with items, but nothing graphic)

Logan's been paranoid since his older sister died during her Pledging.  His thirteenth birthday, and the day of his own Pledging, is only a few months away and he's terrified of the same thing happening to him.  But Pledging means getting his Mark.  And only the Marked can hold jobs and buy things.  Then he discovers that his paranoia is justified, and his entire life changes.

Erin doesn't want to leave Beacon for Spokie.  But her dad's been transferred there for his job doing 'government work', whatever that means.  Her decision to snoop into her father's private papers opens her eyes to his purpose in Spokie; to stop a man kidnapping local children before they can take the Pledge.  She decides that the sooner this man is caught, the sooner she can return home.

The two kids team up to keep Logan from being the next to disappear.

Swipe tells of a future where global war has caused such problems that large parts of the US, Canada and Mexico - now called the American Union - are uninhabitable.  There are no religions.  The AU and the European Union are close to creating a Global Union.  Part of this new union required the Marking of all AU citizens.  Indeed, the only way to be a citizen and benefit from its privileges requires getting the Mark.  Those who choose not to get the mark are either servants, have someone with a Mark to support them or live in slums.

The world has some interesting new technologies to replace the more wasteful items of today.  Few people use paper anymore, tablets being mainstream.  Similarly, since air travel is now so expensive and cars the luxury of the super rich, people cross the country (if they need to) by magnetrain and get around cities by electrobuses and rollersticks (a device the size of a skateboard with a handle that works like a segway).  

Logan is a great character.  He's introduced as the boy who cried wolf, being convinced for years that someone's watching him.  He's neither popular nor friendless.  He's a pushover until he finds a reason to fight back.  

Erin on the other hand is very brave and bold, coming up with new plans for how to catch the kidnappers.  Not always good plans, mind you, she's only 13, but she is quite clever.

The book has some great twists, heading in directions I didn't expect.  I especially liked that there were no easy answers for the protagonists.  They make mistakes and at the end they each make decisions that work for them - and their view of events.  The book is fast paced and a quick read.

My only complaint was with how long it took Erin's dad to figure out what she was up to.  He seemed surprisingly clueless as to her keen intelligence.

A great book for adults, teens and maybe even younger kids - with some interesting discussion possibilities.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in June, 2012

As usual, this list reflects Canadian release dates as posted on the Indigo website.


Existence – David Brin
The Abolition of Species – Dietmar Dath
1636: The Kremlin Games – Eric Flint
Cuttlefish – Dave Freer
Live and Let Drood – Simon Green
Kop Killer – Warren Hammond
Home From the Sea – Mercedes Lackey
Elfhunter – C. S. Marks
Sky Dragons – Anne McCaffrey & Todd McCaffrey
The Broken Universe – Paul Melko
The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
Terminal Point – K. M. Ruiz
Stranger in Olondria – Sofia Samatar
Redshirts – John Scalzi
Prepare to Die! – Paul Tobin
Amped – Daniel Wilson
Judgment at Proteus – Timothy Zahn

Trade Paperback:

Spell Bound – Kelley Armstrong
Mother of Storms – John Barnes
Obsession: Tales of Irresistible Desire – Lawrence Block
Caliban's War – James S. A. Corey
Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet – Gerry Davis
Obsidian and Blood – Aliette de Bodard (omnibus)
Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks – Terrance Dicks (reissue)
Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster – Terrance Dicks(reissue)
Doctor Who: The Three Doctors – Terrance Dicks (reissue)
The Devil Delivered and Other Tales – Steven Erikson
The Sword and Sorcery Anthology – David Hartwell & Jacob Weisman, Ed.
Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors – Brian Hayles
Silver – Rhiannon Held
The Last Four Things – Paul Hoffman
Alexander Outland: Space Pirate – G. J. Koch
Doctor Who and the Ark in Space – Ian Marter
The Girl Who Heard Dragons – Anne McCaffrey (reissue)
The Taken – Vicki Pattersson
Captain Pixel – Maciej Prozalski
Unconquered Countries: Four Novellas – Geoff Ryman
Flashback – Dan Simmons
The Craving – Jason Starr
The Big Switch – Harry Turtledove
The Mammoth Book of Steampunk – Sean Wallace
Worldsoul – Liz Williams
Land of Hope and Glory – Geoffrey Wilson

Mass Market Paperback:

The Key to Creation – Kevin Anderson
Suited – Jo Anderton
Spellcrossed – Barbara Ashford
The Tempering of Men – Elizabeth Bear
Valkia the Bloody – Sarah Cawkwell
Besieged – Rowena Cory Daniells
Star Trek: Python Pact: Raise the Dawn – David George III
7th Sigma – Steven Gould
Heaven's Shadow – David Goyer
For Heaven's Eyes Only – Simon Green
Bury Elminster Deep – Ed Greenwood
Steel Hands – Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett
Chasing Magic – Stacia Kane
Mass Effect: Dissimulation – Drew Karpyshyn
The Hammer and the Blade – Paul Kemp
Unnatural Issue – Mercedes Lackey
Blackhearted Betrayal – Kasey MacKenzie
Wild Cards I – George R. R. Martin, Ed.
Hush: The Dragon Apocalypse – James Maxey
Bared Blade – Kelley McCullough
Changeling – Kelley Meding
Tempest's Fury – Nicole Peeler
Disappearing Nightly – Laura Resnick
Exiled: Clan of the Claw – John Ringo
Blood Kin – M. J. Scott
Bioshock: Rapture – John Shirley
Rule 34 – Charles Stross
The Wild Side – Mark L. Van Name
Midsummer Night – Freda Warrington
Rogue – Michael Williamson
Star Wars: Choices of One – Timothy Zahn

Ebooks (Carina Press):

Pyro Canyon – Robert Appleton
Undercover Alliance – Lilly Cain
The Pirate's Lady – Julia Knight
Supercritical – Shawn Kupfer
Asher's Invention – Coleen Kwan
Timeless Innocents – Janis Susan May
Dance of Flames – Janni Nell
Kilts & Kraken – Cindy Spencer Pape